Month two in Casper

I am close to completing my second month working for the BLM here in Casper, WY. This second month has proven to be much busier than the first, with some exciting new projects and responsibilities.  Although we began to do some cheatgrass monitoring during my first month here, the other intern and I have largely taken over all the monitoring duties associated with that project.  This includes selecting sites to establish new permanent monitoring transects, with the intention of treating that area to remove the cheatgrass at a later date.  Once the monitoring is complete, I will analyze the data and make recommendations for a treatment plan based on the location and density of the cheatgrass.

The importance of removing this dangerous invasive has become more and more apparent as we have entered the main fire season here in Wyoming. The fire danger, posted daily in the office and on many highways, is consistently classified as “Very High” or “Extremely High”.  New fires are seen and reported daily, some of them burning areas greater than 20,000 acres!   The BLM firefighters at this office have been hard at work to control the situation, and have been in cooperation with many nearby fire agencies.  I recently heard that one of the larger fires had 12 large firefighting engines assigned to it, a very large number considering all of the smaller fires that also require attention.  Cheatgrass, being incredibly flammable, may have been a factor in starting these fires, and we are therefore hopeful that removing it will lower the fire danger in the future.

In addition to addressing the cheatgrass problem, I have been helping the wildlife biologists here wrap up the raptor and nest monitoring for the year. Although it may seem early, most raptors will only remain around their nests until their offspring have fledged.  The typical fledging season has ended, and we have observed that most raptors have now left their nests.  I am currently working on an end-of-the-year report to summarize our findings at one monitoring site encompassing 19 nests.  I will indicate which nests remain active and which will require monitoring next year.  The distinction between active and inactive is important because buffer zones are established around every active nest that prohibits any development in that area.  If no raptor activity is recorded over a certain length of time, the buffer restriction is removed and companies (typically oil and gas) are free to develop in that area.

I have also become involved in a number of other exciting projects. We have begun monitoring of Ute Ladies’ Tresses, a listed species of orchid that is endemic to the western United States.  I have observed one population begin to flower, allowing the wildlife biologists here to alert other biologists and contractors to begin searching a variety of areas across the state for more flowering individuals.  The consolidated data should give us an idea of the health of the species, and could potentially be compared to climate data to look for any correlations or trends.

Going forward, I have been talking with one of the wildlife biologists about beginning a project to establish substrate to encourage the nesting of wood ducks in suitable Wyoming habitat. This project would entail identifying areas of habitat that appear appropriate for sustaining populations of wood duck, building the artificial nesting structures, and developing a protocol for monitoring their efficacy going forward.  One of the challenges of this project is that many areas of appropriate habitat may lack corridors to provide feasible immigration by wood ducks.  Therefore, more research may be needed before beginning this project.

Outside of work, I have continued to explore the area and engage in various outdoor activities. I travelled down to Lander, WY to briefly check out a rock climbing festival before embarking on an overnight hike in the Wind River mountain range.  I spent the night at “Island Lake”, likely the most beautiful place I have had the good fortune to camp in the United States.  When not camping or traveling, I have spent a few weekend days floating down the North Platte River here in Casper, which makes for a very fun and relaxing time.  Overall, my second month in Casper has been fantastic both personally and professionally, and I look forward to continuing my work!

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